A cry in the woods leads Ranger Kell Ardantin to the rescue of a lovely young lady, escaping a horrible fate in her homeland to start life anew.
Cinnamon heard the sound first, as usual. She flung her head up and snorted, ears pricked.
"What is it, girl?" Kell patted the mare's neck and strained her own hearing. Nothing, of course, just the gentle sighing of the chill breeze as it passed through sodden leaves and over drenched grass. The mare halted of her own will, ears trembling as she analyzed that distant sound, then she moved into a canter, smoothly covering the ground faster than most horses could gallop.
They'd traveled a good distance, probably a quarter mile, when Kell finally heard something over the sound of her Great Horse's hooves: a girl screaming. Her heart leaped into her throat and she loosened her shortsword, hardly more than a big knife, in its scabbard, then checked the strap securing her bow to the saddle. Yes, ready to do its job and release the bow quickly if needed.READ MORE
She could see the disturbance ahead now, and urged Cinnamon to move faster, faster. Mounted men crowded around a fallen figure. Some of her tension eased. With the men still mounted, the chances of rape decreased dramatically.
"Hold!" Kell yelled. Her horse plunged into the group and the other horses, startled, shied and tried to scatter. She reined Cinnamon in a tight circle and halted her between the mounted men and the sobbing, whimpering figure of a young woman, hardly more than a girl, below. The men—Shandar gentlemen?—fought their horses to a standstill and stared at her in shock, completely incongruous in their sodden finery atop their fine blood horses.
"You have no business here, Ranger." The oldest of the lot, the one best dressed, recovered first. "Move away from our lawful prey."
"I'll determine what's lawful here, thank you very much."
Cinnamon fidgeted, snorting. At her feet, the girl's sobs eased a bit and Kell saw a hint of movement, yellow mixed with mud. "Will you kindly tell me what's going on?"
"Fugitive retrieval." Oh, cold, cruel man! It showed in his eyes, steely grey in the light of the overcast day, and sounded in his hard, controlled voice. Always one with an eye for horses, Kell noticed the firm grip he kept on his plantation walker's foamed mouth and the beast's pinned ears, the ropes of lather on its neck. Poor thing. "Now step aside."
Kell favored him with a cold look. "As you pointed out, I'm the Ranger here, and I'll thank you not to order me about in my own jurisdiction."
One of the younger men made a small, startled movement, holding out a hand as if to ward off a blow, and several of the others shifted in their saddles, glancing at each other. Their horses sidled into a tight knot, as though the riders thought proximity to each other would provide protection from the Law.
"Yes, that's right, you lot are out of Shandar now. That village over there," and she jerked her head backward to indicate the first outbuildings of Rebka, suddenly brilliantly visible as the setting sun broke through a clear band in the clouds, "is a good half day's ride from the border of Shandar Province. This girl is now under my protection. Will you please tell me her crime, that I may know if she needs to be jailed or not?"COLLAPSE
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